I remember that day as if it was right now, as if I am still 21, and still in shock from the waves of newscasts, phone calls, questions, and tears. It was a day that shattered the glass between my present and my future. “It happened. It finally happened.” That was the sentence I most heard my internal voice say that bizarre fall day.
I was asleep initially, in the peace of Pacific Standard Time. Then awakened by my friend Sheri pounding on first my front door and next my bedroom door. My roommate had already left for work. Sheri blurted out something like, “A plane hit the World Trade Center! I came to tell you! Get up!” Despite the urgency in her voice, I assumed it was an ordinary plane crash. I thanked her for letting me know and went back to sleep.
It was shortly before 7am.
Within a few minutes my roommate Becky called me from work, “Dawn, terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City. They think this is part of a bigger terrorist plot. It’s really severe. You need to turn on the news.”
With this new bit of information, I felt my soul shake. I thanked Becky, said goodbye, and went to the TV. What I saw held an eerie resonance. I had been passionate about the Middle East for five years. I’d spent hours upon hours on my floor weeping and praying for terrorists to be set free from their darkness and to meet Jesus. I knew there was an angry plot beyond anything we’d thought of, hatching somewhere in a group of Muslim extremists. I’d known that for years. And suddenly, in a painful onslaught of hate and deception, those plans struck America: sweet, beautiful, where-I’m-from, America.
The anguish inside me burned. I cried for America and I cried for the Middle East. The pain of seeing precious Middle Easterners believe lies to such a degree they killed thousands of people, was horrendous. The pain of seeing beloved Americans and non-Americans, fleeing the horror-stricken towers, was excruciating. I felt I was in the middle of a see-saw, between the emotional ups-and-downs of two peoples.
I didn’t know what to do except sit on our black-sheet draped loveseat and watch the same news footage over and over; and pray. When I saw the second tower fall, my heart crumbled with it. It hurt so much to see the awful ramification of wrong belief gone horribly amuck. It hurt to think there were people so captive to lies they were somewhere celebrating all this death and loss. It hurt to think of families in America with gaping holes in them. It hurt to think of the ways that one day would likely add more chaos to America’s relationship with the Middle East. It hurt to hear talk of revenge. It hurt to hear talk of grief already tumbling from broken hearts.
September 11, 2001 was one of the most pivotal days of my life.
As I waited, prayed, and talked to God that day – all while watching the news – friends streamed in and out of my apartment. Some pounced in with, “Okay, Dawn, I know I haven’t cared about Muslims before, and maybe I should have, but could you explain Islam to me now?” Others said, “What do you think?” in a manner so loaded, I understood how Muslims in America would very soon be answering this same question. I squinted my answers. Between head knowledge and heart resolve was suddenly a vast expanse of painful separation. The Middle East and America already were at odds, this would drive them both to polarization and aggression.
I wished I was in the Middle East. I prayed for God to lead me or other Christians to Osama Bin Laden to share with him the acceptance and love Father God longed for him to experience. I wondered if I might have had an opportunity, or if another Christian had an opportunity, to really love those hijackers before they were “those hijackers.” I imagined people who knew the hijackers, perhaps noticing their darkened outlook; and I wondered if their own fears kept them from reaching out to those men. I thought about the hijackers’ families, neighborhoods, and friends. I wondered about the power of even a single love-filled hug from a Jesus-oozing person to each of these men.
I also thought about the years to come – as my friends and I prayed together on 9/11/01, over the arched eyebrows and anxious words of news broadcasters, we prayed for newness and for salvation for the Middle East. We prayed in spurts all the way until 11:30 that night. We could not and we can not pretend there is ultimately any other answer than Jesus. He is incarnate hope. He is incarnate peace. We prayed for people to love America to life and for people to love the Middle East to life.
Now, ten years later I have seen the ricochet fulfillment of much of the prayers we prayed in my little family room in my petite one bedroom apartment in Costa Mesa, California. Saddam Hussein’s regime fell. Osama Bin Laden was found. I got to live in the Middle East for three years and witness firsthand Muslims falling in love with Jesus and choosing him above vengeance.
There is a large chunk of progress and hope to be immensely grateful for. And I am.
Yet, over this last week, looking toward today, I’ve found myself crying in deep grief. I am sad with all who were traumatized and/or lost loved ones on 9/11 and in its effects. Today, that is the direction of my heart: prayer and hope for all those who have suffered, to all who are still in healing from the pain of that day.
As we must actively love those in the Middle East needing wholeness, we must also actively love those in America who are needing wholeness. Today, as we ponder life, let’s have our deepest resolve be deeper love.
In the words of Francois du Toit,
Let’s go forth from this day courageously, with new commitments to peace and love. Ultimately, this will be what victory looks like both personally and nationally. Love will win.
The September 11 Project, one woman blogs for one year until 09/11/11: